In our green, moneyed corner of Planet Earth, possibility is being pissed up the wall. For the vast majority of human beings, at the age of about 21, the sparkle in the eyes deadens just a little, reason overtakes wonder, and they become a citizen rather than a soul. As the prophet Ally Sheedy foretold in the third greatest film ever made, ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘When you get old, your heart dies’.
Yet for a few sacred people, that disengagement from the simple and the obvious is never quite total. Their eyes will always be that little bit wider than everybody else, and these are the people with the equipment that might lead them one day to genius. For Muse lynchpin Matt Bellamy, those years banging his head against a brick wall are over. He’s broken through, found a better place on the other side, and he wants us all to come with him. Just minutes into ‘Absolution’ he sets down his ultimate commandment to this lazy world, on thunderous opener ‘Apocalypse Please’. “It’s time,” he says, “we saw a miracle“.
Muse’s third album is packed full of them. The trappings of showbiz, muscle museums and plug-in babies have all been cleared away – swept under the carpet as childish things. Free of fripperies like detail, reference or circumstance, Bellamy has put together a collection of simple, poetic, transparent songs that re-engage with the old words and values; honour, courage and righteousness. It’s one long love letter to the Impossible Dream, and it WILL NOT SURRENDER. There’s been no record released yet this century with stakes so high. Musically, it could have been a disaster. But one man’s prog is another man’s progress, and every guitar here sounds like it’s from the future, every flourish and movement scored and orchestrated with the celestial vision. By indulging every pomp rock wet dream he’s ever had, Matt’s found that there’s no such thing as too much distortion, and that, when you care this much, chartbusting tunes really do fall from the sky.
It begins, of course, simply; a subtle, funeral dirge clambers in from the distance. Then ‘Apocalypse Please’ – all wailing vocal theatrics and operatic guitars – arrives and makes damn sure you know that the stakes have been raised. The single ‘Time Is Running Out’ briefly flies back to earth to pick up a few conventional rock tricks, ascending menacingly from scuzzy, brittle verse before crashing through the heart of the sun to unveil the album’s pure motive on the delicate, hymnal ‘Sing For Absolution’. But even this gives away further ground to the tingling rock-opera of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Only on ‘Falling Away With You’ does Bellamy come close to anything as selfish as a love song, and even then, its intimacy is factored out to encompass the entire universe, Bellamy crooning, “forget the reckless things we’ve done, I think our lives have just begun” as much to the rest of this lost world as to any sweetheart.
Most crucially, this mammoth construction of sound never veers from its co-ordinates, never descends into either shoddy poetry or guitar masturbation. And the standard of instant, memorable tunes never drops. From here, a brief, dreamy ‘Interlude’ allows time to power up before ‘Hysteria’> cranks up the guitar for full-on chartbound power grunge. Things reach critical mass with album centrepiece ‘Butterflies And Hurricanes’. As a frantic electronic niggle slowly builds around squelching guitars, the incantation grows bigger, never losing momentum until a fuzz of distortion opens up to the sound of grand chamber pianos falling down spiral stairs, gospel backing vocals all adding up to – in its own head at least – the most powerful song the world has ever seen. It’s certainly the biggest commandment of the record, and also the simplest: “You’ve got to change the world and use this chance to be heard“. You can see the tears as Bellamy desperately tries to make us feel and care as much as he does.
A record of this much scope and scale can only reach chaos, and so the only chink comes through on ‘TSP’ and ‘Endlessly’, which, for all their metallic splendour, could have been on ‘Origin Of Symmetry’. Which is hardly an insult, especially considering the final two tracks, ‘Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist’ and ‘Ruled By Secrecy’, represent one free-flowing fug of wonder. But by then, the work is done. On earth, Muse have made the UK Rock record of the year, but as it is in heaven, they’ve created a scripture; the defining document of a new religion no more complicated than Bellamy’s crystal clear lyrics; there is no afterlife, you have to create your happy ending here on earth. Sing for absolution, for sure, but it won’t be a God that absolves you come judgement day, it’ll be the only deity that’s all-powerful – the heroic, miraculous force of collective humanity, doing things before they die.
Muse have widened the goalposts and re-established what rock is allowed to stand for. Next to ‘Absolution’, even something as majestic as ‘Elephant’ sounds so painfully small. Which, of course, means that there’ll already be an army of dead-eyes queuing up to destroy it as pomp or prog or metal or bluster. But that’s its beauty. Like ‘Ulysses’ or ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, ‘Absolution’ makes as much sense as you decide it’s going to. But if you undo some buttons, dare to dream and allow this astonishing record total control, you might just prove Ally wrong.